Girl Talk: When Does “Concerned” Become “Nosy”?

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend came home from hanging out with his male cousin with a startling report: the cousin had an ugly, yellowing bruise on his upper arm. The cousin also needed to buy a new cell phone because his had been smashed. We noticed his Facebook status had been updated over the weekend to say that he’d made his recent ex-girlfriend cry.

“What happened?!” I gasped. My boyfriend shrugged.

“What, you didn’t ask?” I sputtered. These two are as close as brothers. They’ll be best men at each other’s weddings. But he shrugged again and responded, “I didn’t want to be nosy.”“It’s not being nosy to ask if someone is OK,” I said. “That’s called being caring.”

“I did ask if he was OK and he told me he was fine. If he wanted to tell me what happened, wouldn’t he just tell me?”

“Would he, though?” I asked. “Maybe he’s embarrassed by it. He didn’t exactly hide the bruise or the broken phone and he even updated his Facebook status. It sounds like he wants people to ask him what happened.”

My boyfriend looked really uncomfortable. “I just don’t want to go prying into his private life.”

“Fine.” I said, exasperated. “I’ll ask him. I don’t feel like it’s being nosy at all.”

I’m a direct person and directness is the quality I most appreciate in others. If you’re going to say “no” or tell me something I might not want to hear, just come right out and say it. Quit the pussyfooting around. Clearly, my boyfriend’s definition of “nosy” is my definition of “concerned.” Now, I’m aware that the bruise and the smashed phone and the crying ex-girlfriend could all be coincidences. Nothing could be wrong at all. Still, even Sherlock Holmes himself would say the events could be inter-connected enough to warrant a further look.

I have to ask if we’ve been socialized differently as boys and girls: my boyfriend and his cousin being socialized not to talk or ask about feelings, me to always ask about feelings. I’m generalizing, of course, but showing concern is a big way that females show friendship towards each other. For example, a close friend is currently in a situation where, due to some really inappropriate rage-related and violent behavior, she may break up with her current boyfriend. I don’t think twice about whether asking her what’s going on is “nosy.”

That said, I certainly don’t think it’s my business to know everyone else’s business. But we have to be realistic that sometimes what looks like “setting boundaries” is actually “shame” and some people — myself included — need to hear the words “I’m concerned about you” before they deal with their problems. Isn’t asking questions, getting answers, and offering support just what family and friends are supposed to do?